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Monday, August 8, 2011

PianoFight Theater Company to Sign Lease for Former Original Joe's Restaurant Site

Posted on Mon, Aug 8, 2011 at 1:00 PM

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PianoFight Productions intends to sign a lease Sept. 1 for the space long occupied by Original Joe's restaurant. The theater company that stages sketch comedy, plays, and other productions aims to build out the area at 144 Taylor to include multiple stages, rehearsal space, office space, and a restaurant and bar, according to PianoFight artistic director Rob Ready.

If things go as planned, the company would rent stage, rehearsal, and office space to other performance groups, and it would draw additional income from the bar and restaurant.

"I'd like it to be a new work hub in San Francisco," says Ready.

PianoFight plans to open one space at a time, Ready says; previous plans had the first portion opening this fall, but the prolonged lease negotiations have made December the new target date

Mayor Ed Lee announced plans for the deal at an event on Friday. He also announced that Original Joe's has found a new location in North Beach, although he didn't specify the address or a proposed opening date. Original Joe's closed after a fire in 2007.

Early this year PianoFight left its home at Off-Market Theater on Mission between Fifth and Sixth streets. The group has about 30 members and has been together for about four years.

In its time together PianoFight has created two sketch comedy groups (Monday Night ForePlays and the S.H.I.T. Show), an audience-judged playwriting contest (ShortLived), a number of comedic plays whose plot twists and endings are also decided by audiences (including Merry Forking Xmas), and one post-apocalyptic drama called The Position. The troupe has also made two films, including a mockumentary about producing a play called In Production and a narrative about a teenage crime spree called Low Shoulders, whose script originated in ShortLived.

Ready says not many of the members have formal theater training -- he is the group's only full-time employee -- but they have taught themselves about writing and production as they've gone along. The same applies to the business aspect of negotiating a lease and renovation project.

"If we got a BFA in theater these past three years," he says, "we're getting an MBA right now."

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If the group succeeds with the lease and construction, the 10,000-square-foot space will have two smaller "black box" theaters that hold 75 and 47, respectively, and a cabaret stage near the restaurant and bar, which will bring in money that ticket sales alone would not.

"That is the real revenue center for the project as a whole," Ready says.

Although plans for the restaurant and bar are still rough, Ready says PianoFight would most likely hire a consultant and staff (including a chef), and he and executive director Dan Williams would run the complex as a whole.

The most comparable setups in San Francisco right now are the nearby Exit Theater (which has a cafe) and the ODC complex in the Mission, but he knows of none that have performance and rehearsal space as well as a full bar and restaurant.

Ready says that rehearsal space is almost nonexistent in the city, and performance groups would welcome the addition of some at 144 Taylor.

The city has been helpful because the location is in the Mid-Market area, which San Francisco is attempting to revive as a new arts district. Ready says the space is good, and the Duggan family -- the building owners who also owned Original Joe's at the time of the fire -- has been extremely helpful as well.

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